Tag Archives: cleaning

Don’t miss the party! (And other cleaning tips)

I’m messy.

This is my car:


This is my bedroom:


And they are a mess.

I’m not cherry picking photos, either, to find the worst one to make my point. These were all taken today.

At a party with some friends a few months ago, I told my college roommates that I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I am messy.

My roommates felt vindicated. They had often bemoaned the fact that despite indicating on the freshman roommate preference cards they would like to room with someone neat, they instead got to room with me. I had also indicated that I would like to room with someone neat. Because I would. It’s not like I revel in filth. I just enjoy a lot of other things more than I enjoy tidying.

how i clean

I have spent a lot of time trying to make up for being messy. I go on clean/messy binges, I act really nicely toward my roommates when they look at me with disapproval, I’ve read self-help books about the whole messiness thing. (KonMari anyone?)

Therefore it was typical, but ill-advised, when I clicked on the video that promised a strategy for how to clean your bedroom in 30 minutes. But who can even blame me? It promised a free printable check list.

Watching the video sent me into a tailspin of inadequacy and shame, one of my typical responses. Another typical response is to go to Target and buy as many cleaning supplies as I can, returning home too exhausted to clean. Because shopping is a lot of work.

Let me pause here to say that I don’t dislike neat people. Well, maybe I resent them a little. But only because of my own deficiencies, not because of their amazingness. I look at their seemingly effortless systems of boxes and organization and sigh and fantasize…

About hiring a cleaning person. Because seriously, I don’t want to do it.

Anyway, as I was cleaning for a party or maybe just cleaning my car (turns out I do actually clean, it just never comes together all at once in a way that gives the appearance of “togetherness”), I remembered a story from another party, one that happened shortly after I graduated from college, a time when my life was messy in about every conceivable way.

The party was for my college bff and her husband, who were headed to West Africa to join the Peace Corps. In all the laughing and talking and joy and sorrow of saying goodbye, at some point someone asked if they could get a ride back to their apartment at the end of the party.

For all you neat people reading this, I’m sure there is nothing about this request that seems concerning. I’m sure your car has all of its seat and trunk space open and available for such requests.

But as I’m sure you can imagine, such was not the case for messy-ole-me.

Almost immediately I took to the street and started pulling a year’s worth of teaching stuff out of the trunk of my car. There I stood on a pristine suburban street, surrounded by paper, bins, books, markers, crafts, pillows, blankets, and other debris from the life of a first year teacher, frantically trying to get them into some semblance of organization.

After forty minutes one of my friends came out to find me.

They lovingly helped me put all my things away into the car, and guided me back inside.

Because the truth was that there was room for someone to ride with me. But my shame over my messiness filled the entire car.

And embracing that shame meant I almost missed the party.

I went to visit those same friends a few weeks ago. They have long since returned from the Peace Corps. As we exchanged texts to arrange details of our get together, my friend warned me, “Just so you know, my apartment is a mess.”

It was a relief, and it was a gift, because I got to see the mess from the other side. And from the other side, when it is my friend’s mess, it isn’t a big deal at all.

Maybe it’s not worth missing out on parties, be they real or metaphorical, because I’m so busy trying to hide my flaws. Maybe sometimes what my friends really need is to hear me say, “I’m a mess.”

And maybe by living our messy lives together, we give each other one of the greatest gifts that friendship can offer: permission to be our honest and true selves, without apology.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n Rachel

P.S. If you ARE a person who likes all things neat and tidy, check out my friend Brigit’s blog, Meaningfully Organized. She even offers free printables!!


My House is a Deathtrap for Children


My son rolled across the room today. It was amazing, it was beautiful, and it was terrifying.

I have never been a particularly neat or clean person. There. I said it. If there’s a choice between cleaning or doing basically any activity that isn’t cleaning, painting my toes, or my chihuahua’s toes, will win out.

So when my son rolled across the room of his nursery I clapped and cheered him on while he fist pumped and cooed, clearly incredibly pleased with himself and the attention. Then I looked around. Our carpet is covered in dog fur. And dust. And who knows that else. The carpet came with the house, and just because I’m dwelling on the thought right now I will likely be up late tonight imagining the layers of other peoples’ living that cover the carpet.

I did something drastic. I picked up the entire floor of both of our carpeted rooms. And then I vacuumed. Well, first I put my chihuahua in her crate, since she was biting the vacuum and nearly became a casualty of my sudden cleaning frenzy. While vacuuming (which was shockingly satisfying) I found not one, but two screws on the carpeted floor.

TWO SCREWS! One was an inch long. Within reaching distance from where my son had fist pumped seconds before. Where did those screws come from? How many of their brothers and sisters are lying in wait, hoping to be picked up and swallowed by my sweet, slobbering, teething, rolling six month old?

You need a license to fish, but not to have a baby. Because seriously, if you needed to pass a bunch of tests and prove you can provide a clean home, my application would have been denied.

At his six month appointment yesterday the pediatrician told us that now is the time to get really paranoid about baby proofing the house. My first thought was, “Hmm… probably time to potty train the dog.” My second thought was, “Does this mean I need to do the dishes?” (Please read this with the most amount of whininess you can muster.)

Also, was it really necessary to tell me to become paranoid about anything? I think this pediatrician is getting kick backs from my shrink.

In any case, it was an incredible day, full of milestones for my son.

And if you need me I’ll be scrubbing the floor. Or maybe just painting my chihuahua’s toes.


Small Steps

I have a friend who told me that she started her weight loss journey by deciding to take the stairs instead of the elevator. She read in a book that this simple lifestyle change would accumulate to a five pound weight loss over a year.

My first thought was, “That’s a really cool way to think.” And my second thought was, “OK, but I want to lose weight FAST! Maybe I can run up and down stairs for an hour a day and lose five pounds-A DAY!” Moderation is not my forte.

During one month of counseling several years ago, I talked to my therapist about my inability to keep my room clean. I described the pile of dirty and clean laundry covering the floor of my room in my apartment. My therapist thoughtfully listened, and suggested that maybe the next week I could start making a change by, at the end of every day, putting away the clothes I had worn that day into the dirty clothes hamper or back in my closet. She emphasized not worrying about cleaning up the room except doing that small step. She was so logical that I left really encouraged by my opportunity to make change.

I did not put away my clothes that week.

And I think I’m OK. I don’t think I’m failing at this life thing.

But I do think I could benefit from valuing the occasional small step, the first step toward a bigger change.

It is just so hard for me to do small things. I want all the conditions to be right. I want to plan in advance and have sharpened pencils with perfect erasers and a brand new notebook with sectional dividers–and then I can start my writing project.

I’m thirty now and I have a son who fills my days with joy all the while slowing my productivity to a trickle. Where did all my time go? How was it possible that I ever watched an entire season of 24 in two days? I simply no longer have the luxury of getting to have all the conditions perfect before I go downstairs to do the laundry. (Well, I could decide to continue living this way, but work prefers you to show up in clothes not covered in baby spit-up.)

There are a lot of helpful hints for people like me. I see them in the magazine section of my local Barnes and Nobel, or in the sidebar on my Huffington Post articles, or on the posts of those magical, DIY people on Pinterest. But all of those things just seem like another thing to do, and having too many things to do was the problem in the first place.

After my son was born, I joined the ranks of mothers who realized that they were never again going to have time to brush their teeth. Ever. I cried about this for awhile. OK, I cried about this every day for the first three weeks. So my husband came up with an idea.

On our dry erase board, we made a t-chart. Rachel’s Accomplishments/Husband’s Accomplishments. And then below our name we got to write down any amazing thing we had done that day. For example, brushing our teeth. Or drinking a glass of water. Or getting out of pajamas. Or keeping our son alive. These were great joys.

Shifting our minds from thinking about all the things we didn’t do, and instead focusing on all the things we had already done, allowed us to celebrate the day.

Which I think was my stair-climbing friend’s point.

Maybe you didn’t follow your eating plan perfectly. Maybe you didn’t squeeze in your morning work out. Well guess what? I didn’t go running this morning. I didn’t throw in a load of laundry before work, or put together a crock pot meal. I didn’t wake up on time. I didn’t shower.

But I made it to work. I brushed my teeth(!). I talked with a bunch of students about the books they read. I helped two girls improve their reading fluency. I gave some coworkers a high five. I told my husband I love him. I used the stairs instead of the elevator.

I could focus on the first list. But I find myself much happier focusing on the other one.

My resolution for 2014 is to celebrate the small steps, the small victories, trusting that they will, in fact, accumulate to big victories. And in my good moments, maybe I will even believe that it’s the small victories that matter after all. Maybe.

small victories261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel
P.S. If you like this idea and want to join a community that celebrates small victories, check out www.superbetter.com. You can learn more about it on Jane McGonigal’s TED talk here.